For all the changes that Minnesota hockey head coach Don Lucia made Saturday night, the two most consistent players inspired the Maroon and Gold to a 5-0 Saturday shutout over St. Cloud State and a split in the two game home-and-home series. Of course, two separate occasions of scoring two goals in less than a minute doesn't hurt either.
Minnesota (11-3-0, 8-2-0 WCHA) made numerous line changes among their forwards in an attempt to reignite a stalled offensive against the Huskies (6-6-2, 4-3-1 WCHA). Every line besides the top line of Kyle Rau, Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau featured some new wrinkle after the top-nine went unchanged throughout the first thirteen games.
Despite that, it was Bjugstad and senior goaltender Kent Patterson - who has played in every game - took their game to a different level. Nick Bjugstad propelled himself to second in the nation in goal with his first career hat trick and Patterson made 30 saves for his school-record sixth shutout this season. However, tonight's victory was a team effort as 11 different players had points.
"I had puck luck tonight," Bjugstad said. "I didn't have that many shots and they were going in."
The sophomore forward got the Gophers on the board eight minutes into the game as he shot a wrister over St. Cloud State goalie Ryan Faragher's shoulder into the back of the net. The scoring continued just 44 seconds later with Jake Hansen breaking out of a slump and getting his fifth goal of the season. Minnesota had issues scoring on odd-man rushes in St. Cloud Friday so Hansen converting on a 2x1 early in the game at Mariucci Arena was big for the team.
It wasn't a total domination by the Gophers. St. Cloud State had golden chances to get ahead early in the game. The Huskies whiffed on two backdoor passes which would have kept them in the game and had a couple opportunities denied by puck luck. Despite that, Patterson made some great saves when the time was needed; including a pair on St. Cloud State junior Ben Hanowski early in the second period.
"The team played great," said Patterson. "Defensively we did a great job, especially on the penalty kill. We shut them down and cleared pucks out."
After a scoreless second period - the fifth consecutive middle stanza which the Gophers have failed to score - Minnesota once again outplayed the Huskies and scored three goals in the third period for the second consecutive Saturday. Although the Huskies were able to keep them at bay throughout the second to the point where St. Cloud State out-shot the Gophers 21-19 after 40 minutes, Taylor Matson set the tone thirty seconds into the third. The senior captain was on fire everywhere but the scoresheet and was robbed by a lunging Faragher moving from his right to left.
With the Huskies' freshman goalie continuing to play beyond his years, it took Minnesota's power play waking up to put the final dagger in St. Cloud State. After going 3 for 31 in the last 14 periods, Nick Bjugstad went 2 for 2 by himself in the first 5:42 of the third period to give the Gophers their first hat trick since Jay Barriball had one against Massachusetts on October 9, 2010. Both goals were scored within 2:30 of each other and scored from almost the same spot near the bottom of the left circle. In fact, both came from Nate Schmidt passes.
"[The coaches] took Schmidt in and made him video last night," Bjugstad said after the game. "They noticed I was pretty open last night."
Bjugstad's goals also served as bookends to Mark Alt's second goal of the year. The sophomore defensemen ended up scoring from the high slot 33 seconds after Nick's first goal to put Minnesota up by four goals before the final margin was reached and Kent Patterson put himself in elite company.
Patterson's sixth shutout of the season broke a tie with Rob Stauber and gave the senior the Minnesota school record. Although he has only played in 14 games this season, Patterson has already had more shutouts than anyone in college hockey all of last season. The collegiate record is ten, held by former Michigan State and current Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, and at the rate the Gophers goalie is playing he could end up breaking that.
When asked about that, Kent Patterson said that "it's a long season and I have to take it one game at a time."
And Patterson is right. In the end, the Maroon and Gold played well for sixty minutes and took this game as it was. Despite losing Friday night, Minnesota ends up with two points for the weekend and maintain first place in the WCHA. Most importantly, they've once again proven that the University of Minnesota hockey team is capable of righting the ship.
For all the changes which the Gophers underwent and all the accolades they received tonight, it's tough to say that factis not the most important..
The Gophers travel to East Lansing, Michigan next weekend to face the Michigan State Spartans Friday and Saturday. Both games start at 6 PM Central and air on Fox Sports North. For more Gophers coverage, check out The Daily Gopher.
SB Nation Minnesota 3 Stars:
1. Nick Bjugstad (3 goals)
2. Kent Patterson (30 saves, 6th shutout)
3. Taylor Matson (1 assist, persistent play)
-The Gophers wore their gold third jerseys for the first time this season.
-Seth Ambroz was injured and helped off the ice during the second period on an apparent knee on knee collision with St. Cloud State's David Eddy. He did return in the third period.
-Minnesota improved to 6-0-0 on Saturday games.